Thursday, May 16, 2013

It was María.

by Arianna Kemis
Las Terrazas, Cuba

We were at Las Terrazas, a settlement high in the jungles of Cuba’s highest mountain range. There, nestled away in Cuba’s sunny, mountainous countryside on the shores of a quiet, green mountain lake, pale homes with clay-colored roofs and open windows lay tucked into the hillsides among the mango trees, bromeliads, and hibiscus hedges.

The group had stopped to visit a tiny coffee shop that was decades old. Our guide, Julio, told us that Café de María had started as support for a servant, María, in the 1940’s when she lost her husband. A business man came and had a cup of her coffee, which she worked daily to make locally for plantation owners and neighbors.

“This must be hard for you,” the business man had said. María had nodded.

So, he helped her create a small shop to sell her coffee and earn a living. 

Her recipes are still served, and each member of the group enjoyed the shady breeze on the small terrace and a cup of Café de María. María’s son worked the coffee machines behind the counter and talked with us all as we happily sampled the famous coffee. 

Then, I saw an older woman peering from an upper window just above the staircase we had taken down onto the platform with the counter and small tables and chairs. She looked over us with quiet, dark brown eyes, her wrinkled and worn hands folded peacefully on the windowsill. She had short, grey hair that curled gently around a face that I was certain had been quite beautiful when youth had filled her days.

Then, María’s son waved up to the window and said, “Yes, that’s my mother.”

It was María.

In all of the moments where I had encountered Cuban history on the trip, I never felt like I’d truly walked along beside it until then. Here was a wonderful story in a single woman who had lived through the best and darkest of Cuba’s moments, and she lived in the mountains, watching her son as he brewed her coffee recipes for mingling tourists and smiling neighbors, quietly standing in a window.

I asked if I could take a picture of her with a bag of her coffee beans, which she silently accepted with a small smile that only deepened the wrinkles in her face to a strangely adorable depth. When I had taken the picture, I walked up the few steps and shook her hand. I smiled at her.

She smiled back. 

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